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First Name: Samuel

Last Name: Coursen

Birthplace: Madison, NJ, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Army (1784 - present)

Home of Record: West Point, NY
Middle Name: Streit

Date of Birth: 04 August 1926

Date of Death: 12 October 1950

Rank: First Lieutenant

Years Served: 1949 - 1950
Samuel Streit Coursen

Graduate, U.S. Military Academy, Class of 1949

•  Korean War (1950 - 1953)


Samuel Streit Coursen
First Lieutenant, U.S. Army
Medal of Honor Recipient
Korean War

Samuel Streit Coursen was born 4 August 1926 in Madison, NJ. His father, Wallace Melville Coursen, was a principal in the New York accounting firm of Haskins & Sells; his mother was the former Kathleen Howell. Coursen graduated in 1945 from the Newark (New Jersey) Academy where he was an accomplished athlete.

He was awarded an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy in 1945 and graduated with the class of 1949.

After graduation, Coursen married Evangeline Joy Sprague of Virginia Beach, VA, and the daughter of U.S. Navy Captain Albert Sprague, then commander of the Navy Ammunition Depot at Lake Denmark, NJ.

Early Military Career

Coursen was commissioned a Second Lieutenant of Infantry in the Regular Army upon graduation from West Point. In August 1950, he attended the Officer's Basic Course of the Ground General School at Fort Riley, KS. By January 1950, Coursen was going through the Infantry Officer's Basic and Basic Airborne courses at Fort Benning, GA. In July 1950, he was en route to Far East Command. Promoted to First Lieutenant in the Army of the United States, Coursen took command of a platoon of Company C, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division on 5 October 1950. The 5th Cavalry fought in the Pacific theater during World War II and in the post-war years posted in Japan. The regiment was transferred to Korea in July 1950, weeks after the North Korean invasion that prompted the Korean War.

Events Leading to Death

As more American and United Nations forces came into play during the summer of 1950, they slowed the North Korean advance into South Korea, holding out and maintaining an area around Pusan in the southeast of the country. By 15 September 1950, the United Nations began an offensive to drive North Korean forces out of the South. It was during this offensive that Coursen took his first combat command.

At Kaesong the 1st Cavalry Division was ready to cross the 38th Parallel in to North Korea. The 8th Cavalry Regiment, in the center, was to attack frontally from Kaesong to Kumch'on, fifteen miles north and along the main highway axis. The 5th Cavalry Regiment, Coursen's regiment, on the right, was to move east and then swing west in a circular flanking movement, designed to trap enemy forces south of Kumch'on. In the meantime, the 7th Cavalry Regiment, on the division's left, traversed the Yesong River; advanced north on the road from Paekch'on to the small town of Hanp'o-ri, six miles north of Kumch'on, where the main P'yongyang road crossed the Yesong River; and established a blocking position. Defending the Kumch'on area north of Kaesong were the North Korean People's Army (NKPA) 19th and 27th Divisions. Its 43d Division, to the west, defended the Yesong River crossing and the coastal area beyond the river.

At 0900 on 9 October 1950, the 1st Cavalry Division as part of the Eighth United States Army struck out across the 38th Parallel. Initially, the advance was slow. Along the main highway the 8th Cavalry stopped repeatedly and waited for engineer troops to clear mines from the road. Halfway to Kumch'on the twelfth regiment was halted by an enemy strongpoint, defended by tanks, self-propelled guns, and anti-aircraft weapons. In spite of a sixteen-plane air strike and a 155-mm. howitzer barrage, the strongpoint held.

The 5th Cavalry Regiment, which also ran into trouble at the start, failed to cross the parallel until 10 October. The next day the regiment's 1st Battalion encountered an enemy force holding a long ridge with several knobs-Hills 179, 175, and 174-that dominated a pass fifteen miles northeast of Kaesong. The infantrymen drove the defenders from the ridge during the afternoon of 12 October, but the fight was fierce.

In the battle for Hill 174, Coursen, observed that one of the men of his platoon had entered a well-hidden gun emplacement, thought to be unoccupied, and had taken a bullet. Coursen ran to his aid and without regard for his personal safety, Coursen engaged the enemy in hand-to-hand combat in an effort to protect the wounded soldier until he himself was killed. When his body was recovered after the battle, seven enemy dead were found in the emplacement. Coursen's actions saved the wounded soldier's life and eliminated the main position of the enemy roadblock. For his actions, Lieutenant Coursen was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.

After much fighting, the 1st Cavalry Division captured Kumch'on 14 October. With I Corps soldiers moving through the enemy's principal fortified positions between the 38th Parallel and P'yongyang, the North Korean capital city, enemy front lines, as such, ceased to exist. On 19 October, Company F, 5th Cavalry, entered P'yongyang, followed shortly thereafter by Republic of Korea Army 1st Division elements from the northeast. One of Company F's platoon commanders was one of Coursen's West Point roommates, Lieutenant John F. Forrest. The next morning, 15 October, the 1st Division reached the heart of the city and took the strongly fortified administrative center without difficulty. The entire city was secured by 10 AM that day.

Medal of Honor

On 15 June 1951, it was announced by the Pentagon that Coursen would be awarded the Medal of Honor. On 21 June 1951, Coursen's young 14 month-old son, Samuel, Jr., of Morristown, NJ, was presented the award in a Pentagon ceremony by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman and General of the Army Omar N. Bradley.

Rank and organization: First Lieutenant, U.S. Army, Company C, 5th Cavalry Regiment

Place and date: Near Kaesong, Korea, 12 October 1950

G.O. No.: 57, 2 August 1951

Citation: 1st Lt. Coursen distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action. While Company C was attacking Hill 174 under heavy enemy small-arms fire, his platoon received enemy fire from close range. The platoon returned the fire and continued to advance. During this phase 1 his men moved into a well-camouflaged emplacement, which was thought to be unoccupied, and was wounded by the enemy who were hidden within the emplacement. Seeing the soldier in difficulty he rushed to the man's aid and, without regard for his personal safety, engaged the enemy in hand-to-hand combat in an effort to protect his wounded comrade until he himself was killed. When his body was recovered after the battle 7 enemy dead were found in the emplacement. As the result of 1st Lt. Coursen's violent struggle several of the enemies' heads had been crushed with his rifle. His aggressive and intrepid actions saved the life of the wounded man, eliminated the main position of the enemy roadblock, and greatly inspired the men in his command. 1st Lt. Coursen's extraordinary heroism and intrepidity reflect the highest credit on himself and are in keeping with the honored traditions of the military service.

Medals, Awards & Badges

Medal of Honor
Purple Heart
National Defense Service Medal
Korean Service Medal with 2 Bronze Stars
United Nations Service Medal
Republic of Korea War Service Medal
Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation
Combat Infantryman Badge


In early 1956, the U.S. Army christened a new 172 foot, 860 ton passenger and vehicle ferry the Lt. Samuel S. Coursen to operate in New York Harbor between Manhattan and the army post and First United States Army headquarters at Fort Jay, Governors Island, New York. In continuous service since, the ferry has carried heads of state visiting Governors Island and New York City including Queen Elizabeth II in her first visit as queen on 21 October 1957, and the King of Norway in a visit in the early 1990s. It also brought Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev to a meeting with President Ronald Reagan and President-elect George H. W. Bush on 7 December 1988. When the Army departed from Governors Island in 1966, the ferry continued in service as the island became a headquarters base for the U.S. Coast Guard until 1997. The Coursen, now owned by the State of New York, continues to provide passenger ferry service to Governors Island.

In September 1951, the Newark Academy renamed its athletic ground at its former Orange Avenue campus, the Coursen Memorial Field.

Coursen's name is on a bronze plaque in the U.S. Military Academy Museum listing graduates who have been awarded the Medal of Honor.


First Lieutenant Samuel Streit Coursen is buried at the U.S. Military Academy Post Cemetery at West Point, NY, in Section VII, Row E, Grave 230.

Honoree ID: 1145   Created by: MHOH




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